Susan Montoya Bryan / AP
Girl Scouts have an unusual problem this year: 15 million unsold boxes of cookies.
The 109-year-old organization says the coronavirus – not a thinner claim from Thin Mints – is the main culprit. As the pandemic progressed into the spring sales season, many troops shut down their traditional cookie kiosks for safety reasons.
“It’s unfortunate, but given that this is a girl-focused program and the majority of cookies are sold in person, that’s to be expected,” said Kelly Parisi, spokesperson of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
The impact will be felt by local councils and troops, who depend on cookie sales to fund programming, travel, camps and other activities. Girl Scouts normally sell about 200 million boxes of cookies per year, or about $ 800 million.
Rebecca Latham, CEO of Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails, said her board had 22,000 boxes left at the end of the sales season in late spring, although the girls tried innovative sales methods like the stalls. driving and contactless delivery.
Latham said troops in his area sold 805,000 boxes of cookies last year; this year they have sold just under 600,000. This shortfall means the council may not be able to invest in improving its camp infrastructure or fill some positions, she said. declared.
The council is now encouraging people to buy boxes online through its Hometown Heroes program, which distributes cookies to healthcare workers, firefighters and others. He also ran one-day sales with organizations like the New Mexico United soccer team, to further reduce the total.
Parisi said Girl Scouts in the United States expected sales to decline this year due to the pandemic. But coronavirus restrictions were constantly changing, and orders for cookies placed by its 111 local councils to bakers last fall were still too optimistic.
In early spring, when troops typically set up stalls to sell cookies in person, coronavirus cases in the United States were still near their peak. Hundreds of girls have chosen not to sell cookies in person. Online sales and even a delivery partnership with Grubhub failed to make a difference.
As a result, around 15 million boxes of cookies were left at the end of cookie season. Most – around 12 million boxes – remain with the two bakers, Little Brownie Bakers, based in Louisville, Ky., And ABC Bakers, based in Brownsburg, Indiana. An additional 3 million boxes are in the hands of Girl Scout Councils, who scramble to sell or give them away. Cookies have a shelf life of 12 months.
It is unclear how much of a financial hit the Girl Scouts suffered as a result of declining sales, as the organization will not reveal those numbers. And that’s not the biggest hit the cookie program has ever seen. This likely happened during WWII, when Girl Scouts were forced to switch from selling cookies to calendars due to wartime shortages of sugar, butter, and flour.
But the glut of cookies exposed a few latent issues in the Girl Scout ranks. Some local leaders say this year’s slowdown in sales should have been better predicted as declining memberships threatened cookie sales even before the pandemic began. About 1.7 million girls were enrolled in Girl Scouts in 2019, down almost 30% from 2009.
“Without girls there is no cookie program. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic to bring all the problems to the surface,” said Agenia Clark, president and CEO of Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, a local council.
Clark and other local leaders were able to avoid a stock of cookies because they calculated their own sales projections instead of relying on advice from the national office. Clark believes that a new technology platform adopted by Girl Scouts does not adequately anticipate membership drops and their impact. In April, she sued Girl Scouts America because she doesn’t want her council forced to use this platform.
Parisi acknowledged that membership numbers fell during the pandemic as troops struggled to find ways to meet safely. But those numbers are already rebounding, she said.
There were other reasons for the decline in sales. Some local leaders say they might have sold cookies this year, but chose not to because of an Associated Press article linking child labor to palm oil which is used to make Girl Scout cookies.
Gina Verdibello, a troop leader in Jersey City, New Jersey, said her 21-member troop, made up of girls ages 10 to 15, decided to boycott this year’s cookie program and held a protest at their town hall. Verdibello said she knew at least a dozen other soldiers who chose not to sell because of the palm oil problem.
“We want to sell cookies. That’s part of our thing. But it kind of puts a damper on it,” said Verdibello, whose troop continued to fund activities with donations from people who heard of their boycott.
Parisi said such boycotts were not widespread. But she said the Girl Scouts were working with the Sustainable Palm Oil Roundtable, a non-profit group that sets environmental and social standards for the industry, to ensure farmers meet those standards.
In the end, the municipalities will not be held financially responsible for the 12 million boxes that remain with the two bakers. Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers said they worked with Girl Scouts to sell or donate cookies to places like food banks and the military. Bakers cannot sell directly to grocers as this may decrease the importance of annual cookie sales. But they can sell to institutional buyers like prisons.
Parisi said bakers and councils have sometimes dealt with excess inventory previously due to weather events such as ice storms or tornadoes. But this level is unprecedented.
She said some hubs, like the partnership with Grubhub, are likely to remain. But the girls are also eager to return to their stands next year.
“Girl Scout cookie season isn’t just when you buy cookies,” she said. “It’s interacting with the girls. It’s Americana.”